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There is growing evidence that some form of exercise is a must to avoid the sharp fall seen in the physical activities of the cancer survivors even after the completion of the treatment.

Exercise is a must to avoid the sharp fall seen in the physical activities of the cancer survivors

Any person who has had a cancer of any kind anytime in his life and is still living is considered as a cancer survivor. Generally, if a person has survived for more than five years after the diagnosis of cancer, he fits into this category. Cancer is a very debilitating disease and even after it has been successfully conquered, the toll that it takes on the body lasts for many years to come. It completely alters the patient’s confidence, his day to day working and his health. And on top of that, the survivor has to come to terms with the long term side effects of the chemotherapy.

There is growing evidence that some form of exercise is a must to avoid the sharp fall seen in the physical activities of the cancer survivors even after the completion of the treatment. The American College of Sports Medicine advocates the same amount of exercise for a cancer survivor as a normal person, i.e. around two and a half hours per week. Patients still undergoing treatment must undertake some form of exercise on the days that they are feeling better.

Exercises enhance the immune system of the body and decrease stress. They improve the ability of the body to perform routine tasks and lift the sagging morale of the cancer survivors. Besides helping in the development of self confidence in the patients, exercises also improve the general metabolism of the body. They thus, allow the patients under treatment to go for more vigorous forms of therapy without having many side effects. The sleep pattern of the patient also improves after undertaking exercise.

Cancer and its treatment weaken the heart as well as the skeletal and muscular systems of the body. It tends to make the patient lethargic and physically less active. Exercises make the body active and fight against the regular diseases of ageing, whether in a cancer survivor or in a normal person. There are growing evidences that regular exercising reduces the risk of cancer recurrence, especially in breast and colorectal cancers.

Two main aims of exercising for the cancer survivors

There are two main aims of exercising for the cancer survivors:

  1. The self image of a cancer patient is severely undermined because of hair loss following chemotherapy and because of certain deforming surgeries. Undertaking regular exercises boosts the self image.
  2. There may be loss of muscle mass and body weight in certain cancers like that of gut and head and neck regions. This body wasting is corrected by specific forms of exercises. In survivors of breast cancer, the treatment administered can often cause considerable weight gain. Specific exercises aim to restore the correct body weight and a healthy BMI in these patients.

It is better for the patient to take the doctor’s nod before starting the exercise regimen. Light aerobic exercises improve the flexibility of the muscles, increase the hemoglobin levels, decrease lethargy and help the body to recover from surgery besides boosting the morale of the patient and uplifting his mood. Strength and flexibility exercises aid the patient to resume his normal activities faster. They help to attain the ideal body weight, perfect body mass index and better strength of the muscles. They make the cancer survivor fitter and stronger and reduce the risk of cardiovascular and other systemic illnesses.

Main advantages of exercises in cancer survivors

Physiological advantages: Cancer and its treatment affect the whole body. Regular exercising helps in:

  • Improving the flexibility and movement of all the joints.
  • Strengthening the muscles and restoring their tone.
  • Strengthening the cardiovascular system and improving the blood flow to the vital organs like brain resulting in their better oxygenation.
  • Increased sweating resulting in flushing out of the toxins.
  • Increase in energy levels.

Psychological advantages: Cancer not only affects the body but it also leaves a profound impact on the psyche of the cancer survivor. It is very important to address these psychological issues as to achieve good health, it is imperative to have a strong will power and a positive attitude towards life. Regular exercise results in:

  • Improvement in sleep pattern.
  • Reduction in nervous tension.
  • Bolstering of self confidence and an improved self image.
  • More focus on the positive outcome of exercises rather than on the disease.
  • Mental relaxation

It is important to start with a limited number of exercises and then to build on it gradually as the stamina increases. Always begin with the type of exercises that you find enjoy doing so that you retain your interest and remain motivated. It is a good idea to exercise with your close friends or loved ones as you would enjoy their company and they would be happy to see your progress and your zest for life. However go very slow in the beginning and in case of any problem like breathlessness, palpitations, dizziness, chest pain or muscle pain, etc, stop immediately and talk to your doctor.

The ideal exercises for cancer survivors

You can begin your exercise regimen by simply walking. Start with 5 to 10 minutes and aim for at least half an hour 3 to 4 times per week. Take good care of your posture while walking. The head should be held high, the shoulders back and the abdominal muscles tucked in.

Perform stretching or flexibility exercises to maintain the mobility of your joints and entire body till the time you are ready for more vigorous exercises.

According to experts, the ideal exercises for cancer survivors are aerobics and weight training. Aerobic exercises like brisk walking, jogging and swimming help in shedding weight as they burn calories at a fast rate. They strengthen the cardiovascular system and reduce the chances of heart ailments, paralysis and stroke. Weight training or isometric exercises are especially useful for patients who have lost muscle mass and have gained fat instead. These exercises help in building and strengthening the muscles.

As the patient regains his stamina, he can consult a physiotherapist to formulate an appropriate exercise regimen for him. Some popular forms of exercises include:

  • Pilates wherein the muscles of the abdomen, back and other postural muscles are strengthened.
  • Physioballs which help in strengthening postural and back muscles, stretching and in developing and maintaining balance.
  • Rollers or Styrofoam cylinders which help in breathing, developing core strength, improving the postural muscles and regaining flexibility.
  • Water exercises are also a good form of exercise for the entire body. However patients still receiving radiation therapy are told to avoid this form of exercise until their skin is clear of burns, blisters and other open wounds.

It is imperative to keep the body well hydrated, no matter which form of exercise you have opted for.

Thus we conclude that in a cancer survivor, exercising leads to greater level of fitness, strengthened muscles, and a leaner look with less fat besides a new and improved level of self confidence.